“Magpie Dear, You are the Moonflower of My Middle Age”

Dec 10, 2010 by

Let’s just say I’m really glad it’s Friday. Work has been a monster most of the week; it always is at this time of the year due to everything that’s needed to close one year and prep another. But assuming I survive the day — and I’m working from home, so it will be possible to scream at random intervals if necessary — I’ve planned a treat for myself. The husband will be out with friends, so I’m going to curl up on the couch with a book (I’m going start either Wolf Hall or Rebecca, I haven’t decided which), a bottle of Strongbow Cider, and watch The Man Who Came to Dinner on Turner Classic Movies.

Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolley) and Maggie Cutler (Bette Davis) in "The Man Who Came To Dinner"If you like comedy and have somehow missed this classic, set the DVR for this one. The Man Who Came to Dinner is a product of the collaboration of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, first produced on Broadway in 1939. The dialogue is snappy and much of it are jokes designed to appeal to a New York theatre-going crowd, with many of the characters thinly-veiled representations of well-known figures of the time. Sheridan Whiteside is Alexander Wollcott, Beverly Carlton is a stand-in for Noel Coward, and Banjo can’t be anyone except Harpo Marx, even if he does talk. All were friends of Kaufman and Hart and all took great delight in being skewered.

In 1942, Hollywood came calling with a film version. Monty Woolley repeated his performance as Whiteside, Bette Davis took on Maggie Cutler, Whiteside’s long-suffering secretary, and Banjo still resembles Harpo Marx, even when played by Jimmie Durante. There’s Mary Wickes, whom you’ll recognize from a hundred films the moment you see her, as Miss Preen, the nurse and Billie Burke with her usual, delightful befuddled portrayal of a well-to-do Ohio matron who thought it’d be so wonderful to have such a great and famous man as her guest and is finding the reality quite different.

It’s not a perfect version of the play (the script is by Julius and Philip Epstein, who wrote the script for Casablanca), but after a long week at work, curling up with the old, familiar characters will be a pleasant way to unwind.

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